Cape Town – Was it worth the wait? That’s the question that ran through my head as I snaked back into Cape Town leading a convoy of Golf GTI units fresh from the media launch this week.
Before I answer that question, let’s begin with why there was a wait Volkswagen SA said the GTI’s launch date was postponed no less than five times due to limitations on its plants in Wolfsburg because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Originally set to be unveiled locally in the last quarter of 2020,the date was pushed back to the first quarter of 2021. The world’s largest car company was dealt another blow by the semiconductor shortage and the GTI was delayed again.
Now finally, I get to drive it South Africans snapped photographs, waved and even bowed as we drove towards some of the province’s best mountain passes. Of course, being CAR, we drove the Golf GTI away from prying eyes, ahead of its local launch, earlier this year to bring our readers an exclusive drive in our September issue.
Volkswagen’s eighth generation of the Grand Turismo Injection is more advanced than ever before and features just ONE ‘real’ button in the cabin (on the indicator stalk), the rest uses haptic feedback. A thicker steering wheel feels just right, well-bolstered leather pews with electric power are standard, but in our opinion don’t lower enough. That doesn’t dilute how comfortable and supportive they are, particularly when hard cornering is required.
A raid of the Porsche 911 parts bin sees a similar-looking gear-shifter used and interestingly doesn’t have a manual override mode. Instead, the only way to swap the seven forward cogs on your own accord is via the paddle shifts located on the steering wheel. In application, the transmission’s contrasting personalities in Comfort and Sport mode shows its breadth of ability. The gearbox’s aggressive nature in the sportiest setting sets the tone for spirited driving and works brilliantly with the EA888 2,0 turbopetrol motor to extract its 180 kW and 370 N.m. For the record, power is up 20 kW and 20 N.m in comparison to its predecessor. Off the line, it doesn’t strike us as feeling rapid, but what’s impressive is its in-gear acceleration. The digital speedometer almost becomes a blur as the car rockets from fourth gear without breaking a sweat. It’ll be interesting to see what figures it churns out once we performance test it and we think Volkswagen might be underquoting the GTI’s power outputs, it feels like it’s north of 180 kW.
We experienced the latest iteration of Volkswagen’s optional dynamic chassis control (DCC) with variable shock absorbers. Volkswagen’s engineers focused on improving cornering ability, precision and improving stability.
On some of the most demanding roads in the Western Cape, the Golf GTI showed tremendous grip through tight, switchback corners while providing supreme high-speed stability through faster sections. Upfront, the strut-type suspension has reconfigured wishbone bearings and revised damping hydraulics.
A new, more rigid aluminium subframe is nearly three kilograms lighter than that of its predecessor, while the multilink rear axle features a new wheel mount, wishbone bearing and spring setup, as well as reconfigured auxiliary springs.
The latest vehicle dynamics manager system brings the electronic stability control with the electronic differential locks (XDS) and the DCC adaptive damping together to do all the dirty work while the driver feels like a hero. Pitch the car into a corner too quickly isn’t an issue for the XDS as it simply pulls the front axle through a bend that the driver has made a hash of. The systems really stroke one’s ego, and it’s a testament to Volkswagen nailing the brief of what the Golf GTI is used as. The definitive hot hatch of the last forty years has graduated to a slick tech fest that offers everyday usability thanks to a five-door configuration and more than enough poke to excite the senses.
Standard features, meanwhile, will include 18-inch “Richmond” alloy wheels, VW’s lights and vision package (with high-beam control light assist), Climatronic air conditioning, a heated leather-wrapped sports steering wheel, “GTI Vienna” leather seats, the “Composition Media” sound system, the 10,25-inch multi-colour InnoVision cockpit, App-Connect, cruise control (with a speed limiter), parking sensors, wireless smartphone charging and 30-colour ambient lighting.
Further options include a mechanically swivelling trailer hitch, LED matrix headlamps (R10 000), and (R8 000) black styling package (including black 18-inch “Bergamo” alloys), a head-up display, a smoker’s package, 19-inch “Adelaide” alloy wheels (R12 000), a Harman Kardon sound system (R11 400), the “Discover Pro” audio system (with sat-nav, wireless App-Connect and voice control), a parallel parking assistant, rear assist with a rearview camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane assist, adaptive cruise control (with front assist) and autonomous emergency braking bundled into the travel assist package for R11 100. Dynamic indicators and a panoramic sunroof are also part of the options list.
Nine exterior colours are on offer for the latest model, divided between three solid paint exterior colours: Pure White, Urano Grey and Moonstone Grey; along with four metallic hues: Dolphin Grey, Atlantic Blue, Kings Red and Reflex Silver; and two pearlescent options: Deep Black Pearl and Oryx White Pearl.
Volkswagen asks a premium of R40 000 over the previous generation Golf GTI that bowed out at the top of 2021. Considering the good standard specification, massive leap in tech and the sterling engine it’s hard not to fault the Golf GTI package at that price point. Was it worth the wait? Unequivocally, yes.